An Atlas of Impossible Longing

A Novel

LIST PRICE $11.99
About The Book

“This is why we read fiction at all” raves the Washington Post: Family life meets historical romance in this critically acclaimed, “gorgeous, sweeping novel” (Ms Magazine) about two people who find each other when abandoned by everyone else, marking the signal American debut of an award-winning writer who richly deserves her international acclaim.

On the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, a family lives in solitude in their vast new house. Here, lives intertwine and unravel. A widower struggles with his love for an unmarried cousin. Bakul, a motherless daughter, runs wild with Mukunda, an orphan of unknown caste adopted by the family. Confined in a room at the top of the house, a matriarch goes slowly mad; her husband searches for its cause as he shapes and reshapes his garden. As Mukunda and Bakul grow, their intense closeness matures into something else, and Mukunda is banished to Calcutta. He prospers in the turbulent years after Partition, but his thoughts stay with his home, with Bakul, with all that he has lost—and he knows that he must return.

Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for An Atlas of Impossible Longing includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

Set in the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, in the mid-20th century, An Atlas of Impossible Longing is a multi-generational novel that weaves together a family’s story of romance, abandonment, forgiveness, and desire. Told in three powerful parts, the book explores what it means to live with the ghosts of the past, deal with an ever-changing present, and strive toward a blissful future that always seems just out of reach.

TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. “The silence that to Amulya meant repletion locked Kananbala within a bell jar she felt she could not prise open for air.” (p. 16) The move from busy Calcutta to secluded Songarh is life-changing for both Amulya and Kananbala, though in very different ways. Discuss how each is affected by the change.
  2. “He would look at [the plants] tenderly, wanting to stroke and pat them . . . He had created a garden where there had been wilderness” (p. 23). Describe Amulya's relationship to nature throughout the book. How does he treat the plants in his garden? Similarly, how did you interpret his fascination with the young dancer's Incarnata flower in the first chapter?

  3. “The lion’s roar was a secret she could not share with anybody else. The others slept on, oblivious to the throbbing wakefulness of the jungle.” (p. 19) Consider the roar of the lion that Kananbala hears periodically throughout the novel. Do you think Kananbala is hearing the roar of an actual lion, or do you think, in her madness, she is imagining the noise? What could the noise mean?
  4. Marriage can be both a blessing and a struggle, as the married couples in this novel exemplify. Review the various married couples involved in the story, and discuss: Which marriage do you think works the best? Which is the unhealthiest? Why?
  5. “Quietly she muttered, ‘God’s ways are strange, that He should give children to those who don’t care for them and leave me childless.” (p. 132) Manjula is seldom portrayed as a sympathetic character in the novel, yet her yearning for the child she can never have often gives her a certain vulnerability. How do you view Manjula? Does your opinion of her change over the course of the book?
     
  6. Kananbala and Mrs. Barnum share a bond from the moment Mrs. Barnum initiates the first wave. Does their relationship change after Kananbala witnesses Mr. Barnum’s murder? If so, how? Do you think Kananbala and Mrs. Barnum’s relationship at all contributes to Mrs. Barnum’s fondness for Bakul and Mukunda?
  7. The theme of man versus nature cuts through the novel, particularly when Bikash Babu laments the fall of his house to the rising river: “The arrogance,” he repeats. What emotions do you think he is feeling at that moment? At what point do you think he realizes that nature has truly won?
  8. Mukunda’s unknown caste gives him both trouble and freedom throughout the novel. In which ways does it help him? Hurt him? At any point, do you think he is treated unfairly because of his indefinite lineage?
  9. When Mukunda buys the house in Songarh, he believes he will finally be able to live a fulfilled life. Ultimately, what choices has he made by buying the house? What does he lose, and what does he gain?
  10. The pull of forbidden love is strong for many of the characters. Which characters resist this pull, and which seem to welcome it? Are any of them successful in refusing to succumb to forbidden love? If so, which?
  11. “If anyone in his family or neighborhood got to know, there would be turmoil; Meera would certainly be ostracized, and perhaps he would be too.” (p. 139) Consider the strain put on the characters by societal expectations. Do you think her certain exclusion from society is the only reason Meera runs from her attraction to Nirmal?
  12. The above quote suggests a double standard for women and men in these types of situations; Meera will “certainly be ostracized,” while Nirmal may only “perhaps” suffer society’s disdain. How is this double standard a reflection of society, and what is your reaction to it? Do you see a double standard for women and men elsewhere in the novel?
  13. Noorie the Parrot plays a small yet significant role in the book, and in the hearts of those who closely encounter her. What does she represent for Mukunda, the man who threatens to make “parrot stew” of her? To his wife, who sets the bird free to fend for itself? For Chacha and Chachi, who return to Calcutta to find Noorie is no longer there?
  14. After finishing the book, turn back to the beginning and reread the opening Prologue. Discuss: How has your interpretation of the opening paragraphs changed? Does the Prologue evoke different emotions now that you are more acquainted with the house and the river?
  15. During the massive displacement of the Indian Partition, more than 100,000 people died. Do you see ways in which these events mirror other events taking place in the world today?

    ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

  16. With the members of your reading group, create a family tree for the characters in the novel. You can use this diagram as a resource during your discussion.
  17. Mukunda fondly remembers Chacha’s inability to buy anything but books when he comes into a bit of spare money. Chacha appreciates everything from the “beautiful engraving on the title page” to the smell of the pages of a secondhand book. Take a trip to a bookstore or secondhand book sale in your community as Chacha might have done.
  18. Meera’s favorite hobby is taking care of the young pups she finds by the Songarh ruin. She also enjoys sketching them, the ruin, and the people she loves. Find a person, place, or animal that interests you and sketch that subject in two ways: how the subject truly looks—like Nirmal would request if you were sketching the ruin—and how the subject makes you feel.
  19. Anuradha Roy’s characters live in an ever-changing India, and the novel often touches upon the goings-on of the time period. Using the internet or your local library as a resource, learn more about India’s history in the first half of the 20th century.
  20. The symphony “Finlandia” by Sibelius plays a part in the book; Makunda hears the symphony in school on p. 221, the flute melody in it entrances Mukunda when Bakul plays it for him on p. 241, and he plays it himself on p.273. Find a recording of symphony and try to locate the movement with the flute Bakul plays. With your group, discuss what Mukunda may have been thinking or feeling when he heard the melody, and the emotions it brings up in you.
About The Author
MacLehose Press

Anuradha Roy is the author of An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth, as well as Sleeping on Jupiter, which won the DSC Prize for Fiction 2016 and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2015. She lives in Ranikhet, India.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Free Press (April 2011)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451609202

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Raves and Reviews

Praise for An Atlas of Impossible Longing:

“Every once in a great while, a novel comes along to remind you why you rummage through shelves in the first place. . . . [A]s you slip into the book’s pages, you sense you are entering a singular creation. . . . And then, suddenly, you are swept away. . . . This, you think, is the feeling you had as you read Great Expectations or Sophie's Choice or The Kite Runner. This is why you read fiction at all.” —The Washington Post

“Roy’s prose does not hit a single wrong note: its restrained beauty sings off the page.” —Neel Mukherjee, Time Magazine

“Refreshing. . . . [Roy] defines her characters quickly and skillfully, she has a keen eye for landscape, and she knows how private lives can suggest the larger shape of the public world.” —The New York Times

“Set in mid-twentieth-century India, this debut novel spans generations and political upheavals, [chronicling] both the strength of domestic bonds and the wounds that parents and children, and husbands and wives, inflict on each other.” —The New Yorker

“Epic. . . . [a] gorgeous, sweeping novel.” —Ms Magazine

“Impressive. . . . With her rich imagination, vivid descriptions, and skillful handling of events. . . . Roy weaves a tapestry of family life in India. . . . the story and characters stay with the reader for a long time. Roy is a writer to watch.” —The SeattleTimes

“Roy’s prose soars with a lyricism that can take your breath away. . . . From her whirlwind opening sentences, readers know they’re in for a ride.” —Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“A novel to convince us that boldly drawn sagas with larger-than-life characters are still possible in a relentlessly postmodern world. . . . A sprawling epic of love, class and ambition.” —Denver Post

“An incandescently evocative debut novel filled with wrenching tragedy as well as abiding passion.” —Booklist

“[Roy] is a fabulous storyteller with a true gift for transporting the reader right into the heat, smells, and sights of India. . . . a poetic novel easily read again and again. A complete success and an excellent choice for a discussion group.” —Library Journal

“Roy’s impressive American debut. . . the sounds, smells, and feel of Bengal come vividly to life. Cultures may differ, but longing and love are universal.” —Publishers Weekly

"In An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Anuradha Roy bravely explores love, the caste system, and familial lines in a vivid portrait of war-stricken twentieth-century India. This absorbing story defies prediction. Roy’s grace and mesmerizing language stayed with me long after I closed the book.” —Katie Crouch, author of Girls in Trucks

“A novel of beauty, poignancy, and gut-churning suspense. . . . A lyrical love letter to India’s past—an India of innocent child brides and jasmine-scented summer evenings. . . . Poetic and evocative, Roy’s writing is a joy.” —Financial Times

“Deftly and sensitively narrated.”—The Independent

"A story to lose yourself in.. . . Anuradha Roy is a wonderful writer. . . . this tale of three generations of an Indian family, set over the span of the 20th century, is brilliantly told [and] intensely moving." —Sunday Express

“Roy’s novel is engaging from start to finish and difficult to put down.”—The Sunday Sun

"Recalls classics from Great Expectations to The Cherry Orchard. . . . Roy's prose is luscious yet economical. Capturing the rhythms of life in rural backwater and big city alike, she strings together jewel-like episodes. . . . giving her story the quality of something remembered." —The National Newspaper

“Now here is a perfect monsoon read: an exquisitely-written first novel that flows limpid and elegiac. . . . you might find yourself unbearably moved by her delicate probing of the fragility of love and longing.”—India Today

International Praise for The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy:

“[Roy’s] narrative is poised andher language precise and poetic, without being flamboyant . . . a story about love and hate, continuity and change, loss and grief in a convincing and memorable setting.”—The Independent

“Anuradha’s ability to seamlessly place the private lives of her characters within a larger socio-political setting is what she carries into her second book [as well] . . . at the end of The Folded Earth you feel a firm belief in the redemptive qualities of life and love.” —Elle

“A gently perceptive story, half comic and half poignant, of a woman’s struggle to forget her sorrows in new surroundings.” —The Sunday Times

“Tight with life. . . .Roy’s attention to individual words pays off as she conveys the full texture of experiences. . . . Even minor characters are evoked with inventive idiosyncrasy.”—Daily Mail

"The Folded Earth is pure pleasure, that old fashioned sort of novel in which one can immerse oneself; an absolute treat." —Business World

“Eminently readable, a literary novel that feels timeless and authentic.” —DNA

“Roy has an admirably restrained style and her novel offers a vivid evocation of North India. She conjures up striking images with the lightest of touches.” —The Tatler

"A jewel of a story." —The Deccan Herald

“[A] deeply unsettling but beautiful novel . . . utterly enrapturing. . . . As always, Roy’s writing remains gently poignant and metaphoric throughout, every vignette and scenario she constructs feels multilayered and deeply meaningful.” —For Books' Sake

“A perfect treat . . . Roy brings her characters vividly and amusingly to life.” —Country and Town House Magazine

“There is a gentle perfection to the way Roy writes. . . . A beautiful love story. . . . about people who love and long—impossibly?—and love again.” —The Hindu

“Anuradha Roy’s second novel demands that the reader pause, slow down, savour this work. . . . I hear echoes of Anita Brookner and Edna O’Brien and other writers like them as Roy brings Maya and her travails to life.” —Biblio

“A book you will hold close to your heart long after the last page is turned.” —First City Magazine

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